GOP activists complained, for months, that Doherty was a sort of anti-Loughlin: too little seen on the Republican circuit and not sufficiently inclined toward working the room.

Doherty has become a steady presence at GOP events lately, they say, but he still seems unlikely to match Loughlin — or Cicilline, for that matter — on the schmooze-o-meter.

Moreover, his decision last month to hire former Rhode Island Republican Party chairman Giovanni Cicione — less-than-popular on the conservative wing of the GOP — as his campaign manager did not help his case with the activist class.

All of this feeds an argument Loughlin's supporters have made for months — their candidate is the real Republican, the more experienced politician, the better debater.

Trouble is, as they have clung to that argument, the field has tilted in Doherty's favor in the meantime. There are, of course, Doherty's impressive fundraising totals and the frontrunner status they have bestowed. And an endorsement from former governor Donald Carcieri has boosted his GOP bona fides.

But there is also this: in November, the Rhode Island Republican Party's central committee turned back an attempt to close the GOP primary. The move, had it cleared legal hurdles on the state level, would have limited the vote to registered Republicans, preventing independents — a key constituency for Doherty — from casting ballots.

Loughlin, a helicopter pilot who has been training members of the Iraqi military for the last several months, will stop at Ali Al Salem air base and Camp Virginia, both in Kuwait, on his way back home. Then it's stateside for demobilization. He's expected in Rhode Island around Christmas.

After the holidays, there will be plenty to do.

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  Topics: This Just In , Brendan Doherty, Rhode Island Republican Party, Michael Napolitano,  More more >
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